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All teachers fired at R.I. school. Will that happen elsewhere?

All the teachers at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island were fired by the board of trustees this week. More such cases are likely to arise across the US in the coming year because of pressure from the Obama administration – and the incentive of billions of federal dollars.

By Staff writer / February 25, 2010

Teachers protest outside Central Falls High School in Rhode Island. The school committee voted to fire every teacher, the principal, and other staff at the high school at the end of the school year.

Butch Adams/The Pawtucket Times/AP

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A small, high-poverty school district in Rhode Island is now ground zero for some of the most explosive debates over reforming America’s worst-performing schools.

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To the dismay of many local and national union members, all the teachers, the principal, and other staff of Central Falls High School were fired by the board of trustees this week. The move is part of a dramatic turnaround plan proposed by the superintendent and approved by the state education commissioner.

Because of pressure from the Obama administration – and the incentive of billions of federal dollars – more such cases are likely to arise across the United States in the coming year.

Advocates of the “turnaround” approach say it’s a way to remove bad teachers or change a culture that makes it difficult for good teachers to work effectively. But teachers feel scapegoated. And there’s no clear-cut research guaranteeing that student test scores will improve when schools are reorganized with new staffs.

Will more superintendents clean house?

“This will be a canary in the coal mine,” says Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Such dramatic moves are likely to multiply as “an increasing crop of no-excuses superintendents and state commissioners” take the view that “it’s essential to clean house” to improve persistently failing schools, he says.

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan applauded the Rhode Island decision this week. But Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers president, shot back with a statement that “firing all of the teachers is a failed approach and will not result in the kinds of changes necessary to improve instruction and learning.”

In 2009, 48 percent of Central Falls High School students graduated after four years, compared with a state average of 75 percent, according to a state education department spokesman. This past fall, 7 percent of 11th graders tested at the proficient level in math, 55 percent in reading.

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